What is HTTPS?
By Nick Anderson 5 minutes
The Hyper Text Transfer Protocol is an essential technology that makes web communication possible. It was introduced in the year 1990 and has since been used to display web pages. But it lacked security that granted complete privacy between the client and the webserver. To address the vulnerability, HTTPS was created. It has led to the transformation of the internet to a much more secure place where online transactions, and sending/receiving sensitive information, can happen safely.
A large portion of the web now utilizes HTTPS for secure communication. But what is it exactly? That’s what we will uncover in this blog.
HTTPS Stands for Secure
The S in HTTPS stands for secure. It represents the presence of encryption that secures data from one end to the other. To be precise, it signals the use of TLS encryption.
Transport Layer Security (TLS) is a protocol used by websites to encrypt the back-and-forth communication between the user and the webserver. You may have heard Secure Sockets Layer (SSL); it is the predecessor of TLS and still the most widely used term. The web today uses TLS encryption, but SSL continues to be the more popular term. Whenever you hear about SSL encryption on a website, it is actually the TLS protocol.
SSL vs. TLS
In essence, both SSL and TLS encrypt data, but the differences lie in the security and functionality. SSL was introduced back in the 1990s by Netscape. Security vulnerabilities pushed it towards early retirement when TLS was pitched as a successor that improves upon those vulnerabilities. In addition to having better security against exploits, TLS supports a wider range of ciphers, which are essential to its improved security. TLS 1.3 is the current version of the protocol.
TLS does not just encrypt data; it also verifies the authenticity of the webserver and the integrity of the data. It ensures that the webserver is legit and that data has not been tampered with during transit. The client and the webserver perform what’s called a TLS handshake. It involves exchanges, including the protocol to be used and the web server’s TLS certificate.
How HTTPS Works
The web server proves its identity by sending the digital certificate, which is issued by a Certificate Authorities (CA). These authorities serve as public entities that the web browser can trust. CloudFare, DigiCert, Let’s Encrypt, Global Sign are some of the several authorities that issue TLS certificates to websites. There are also different levels of certificates, the most common being Domain Validation (DV).
The certificate contains the web server’s public key, which the client will use to encrypt and send data. The web server will decrypt the data with its private key. It is known as Asymmetric Encryption.
Asymmetric Encryption involves a public key and a private key. The latter is a secret that only the webserver holds. The two keys are mathematically related, so decryption is possible using the private key; the client need only have the public key for encryption data.
Symmetric Encryption relies on a single key for both encryption and decryption. HTTPS is an Asymmetric Encryption protocol, but it also uses Symmetric Encryption. Once authentication and session keys have been processed, the client and the webserver will resort to Symmetric Encryption for faster communication.
HTTPS is a Sign of Trust
Websites that carry the HTTPS prefix provide a certain level of trust to the user. Ecommerce websites that allow users to make transactions using credit cards daily have to provide such security to ensure personal information is not stolen.
Unencrypted stream of data is vulnerable to Man-in-the-Middle attacks. It is a type of exploit that influences the browsing experience of a user. For example, instead of opening the requested website, the attacker can redirect the user to a different website. A fake Facebook login page designed to steal credentials is just one of the many ways an attacker could exploit the absence of security.
Much of the internet today has implemented HTTPS not only because it provides data security, but also complies with search engine preferences. Google Search favors HTTPS-enabled websites heavily when it comes to rankings. Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox web browsers display an “unsecure” connection alert for websites without the encryption, and the same is true for outdated SSL certificates.
The warning is enough for a user to escape the website. It is a serious concern for any webmaster looking to attract users.
Always note the presence of HTTPS and never share information over an unsecure connection. HTTPS is denoted by the little lock icon in the URL bar next to the website’s address.
How VPN Helps Improve Security
Encryption is a fundamental pillar of a VPN. You might wonder that if HTTPS incorporates encryption, then why is a VPN necessary?
It comes down to how HTTPS has been configured on the website. HTTPS is still susceptible to vulnerabilities – that’s why SSL was retired, and TLS introduced new versions without previously-known vulnerabilities. TLS is the ubiquitous encryption protocol for the web today, but older versions are still in use, which makes the websites susceptible to exploits.
FastestVPN encrypts communication with AES 256-bit – a standard trusted by security experts worldwide. Not only that, but your digital footprint also remains safe from the ISP and other third parties on the web.
HTTPS is essential for a safe web browsing experience. Always ensure that you are connected to a secure website before sending information. Also, be wary of connecting to unsecure Wi-Fi networks. They add more potential for eavesdropping when dealing with a non-HTTPS website. A VPN will guarantee the best security – all the time.